Review found Afghan central bank lacks independence from Taliban – US watchdog

By Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S.-funded assessment of Afghanistan’s central bank found that it lacks independence from the Taliban administration and adequate safeguards against money laundering and terrorism financing, a U.S. watchdog told Congress on Tuesday.

Reuters last month reported that the assessment, whose conclusions had not been made public at the time, failed to win Washington’s backing for a return of central bank assets held in a $3.5 billion Swiss-based trust fund.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a quarterly report to Congress, disclosed that the assessment found flaws with the management of the central bank, known as Da Afghanistan Bank, or DAB.

The DAB “lacked independence from the Taliban regime and had deficiencies in anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism,” SIGAR said the assessment showed.

The U.S. Agency for International Development funded the review by an outside contractor.

The finding that DAB lacks independence from the Taliban, which returned to power after the August 2021 U.S. troop pullout, apparently referred to the three Taliban officials who oversee the bank and are under U.S. and U.N. sanctions.

Concerns in Washington and other capitals about the bank’s leadership and anti-money laundering safeguards are at the heart of a standoff over the Taliban’s demand for the return of DAB cash frozen in other countries since their takeover.

Half of about $7 billion frozen in the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York was placed in the Swiss-based trust fund. The rest is being sought in lawsuits against the Taliban brought by families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The Taliban harbored al Qaeda militants who plotted the attacks.

A U.S. Treasury official told Reuters last month on condition of anonymity that Washington will not support a return to DAB of Swiss-based trust fund assets until the bank shows it is free “from political influence and interference.”

It also must demonstrate “adequate” controls against money laundering and terrorism financing, the official said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; editing by Grant McCool)